Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2006. Columbia Pictures, Mandate Pictures, Three Strange Angels, Crick Pictures, Ebeling Group. Screenplay by Zach Helm. Cinematography by Roberto Schaefer. Produced by Lindsay Doran. Music by Britt Daniel, Brian Reitzell. Production Design by Kevin Thompson. Costume Design by Frank L. Fleming. Film Editing by Matt Chesse. Toronto International Film Festival 2006.
A tax auditor for the IRS (Will Ferrell) lives a carefully plotted, monotonous life until the day he is brushing his teeth (with the requisite number of brush strokes) and starts to hear a female voice narrating his life. Schizophrenia is a possibility, except that the voice isn’t speaking to him, it’s correctly describing his life and his every motivation and action. Across town, a blocked author (Emma Thompson) is writing Ferrell’s story but needs the assistance of a no-nonsense assistant (Queen Latifah) to help her finish the novel that she’s been struggling with for ten years. Unfortunately, the climax of the book involves Ferrell dying, and he is sent into quite a spin when he hears her predict this in one particular passage of narration. Consulting a liberally-minded literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), Ferrell starts to examine his life, including his predictable job and a burgeoning romance with an adorable baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he’s auditing, in order to decide if he is living a tragedy or a comedy. Meanwhile, the audience is constantly wondering just what tone this movie wants to take; an uneven mix of charming comedy, genuinely moving sentiment and quirky Charlie Kaufman-esque brilliance, the film is expertly handled at moments and then completely lost at others. What saves it are earnest performances, especially the loveable Gyllenhaal and an absolutely brilliant Thompson, who sinks her teeth into a great role for the first time in years (just watch her face when she meets Farrell for the first time, it’s one of the most heartfelt moments in recent cinema).